Bhagavad Gita

Yoga and the Gita
Giriraj Swami with Kausalya Dasi
May 21, 2005
Imperial Beach
San Diego

The Bhagavad-gita was spoken approximately five thousand years ago by Lord Krishna, who is accepted by Vedic authorities as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When Krishna speaks, He does not speak in ordinary prose; He speaks in poetry and with melody. Thus His words have been recorded as the Bhagavad-gita, “The Song of God.”

God is a person, just as we are persons, but unlike us, He is not a conditioned soul. He is not limited like we are, but still He is an individual. The Bible says, “God created man in His own image.” Even logically, whatever faculties we have, whatever qualities we have, God must also have—and more. We have the faculty to think, to feel, to perceive, to speak, and to act. And God has these same faculties. The Vedanta-sutra says, janmady asya yatah: the Absolute Truth is He from whom everything emanates. Whatever exists in the creation of God must also exist in God, the creator. So God has all the same faculties we have, but in Him they exist in perfection. He thinks, but His thinking is perfect; He speaks, and His speaking is perfect; He acts, and His actions are perfect. Everything about Him is perfect. And the Bhagavad-gita is the record of God’s spoken words, His song.

As conditioned souls, we tend to think of individuality as a conditioned state. When people hear that God is a person, they often retort, “How can you say that God is a person? You are limiting God. If you give God a form . . .” Of course, we don’t give God a form, but they say, “If you give God a form, you are limiting God.” And when we view things from the material perspective, from the conditioned state, that makes sense. But when we look at things that way, we are actually applying our limited experience in the material world and extending it with material reasoning to reach a false conclusion: If we have form and we are limited, then if God has form He must also be limited.

Actually, God is beyond material duality. We cannot understand what God is by concluding that He must be the opposite of us. We have form and we are limited—if I am sitting here in Imperial Beach I cannot simultaneously be somewhere else—but God has form and He is unlimited. God is here, and He is also in New York, He is also in Nairobi, and He is also in Shanghai. He is in this room, in the next room, in the wall, in the ceiling—He is within every atom, and He is in the spaces between the atoms. He has form, but His form is not like ours. It is not material; it is not limited. His form is spiritual and unlimited.

We are conditioned. Within the body of any conditioned being is a spiritual soul, and it is the presence of the soul that gives life to the body. The body is just a vehicle, like a car, and the soul is the driver, the person within the vehicle who makes it function. As soon as the driver leaves the car, the car cannot function properly. Similarly, when the soul leaves the body, the body can no longer act. We, the living being, are the spiritual soul, and we reside within the body and utilize the body, but we are distinct from it.

The Bhagavad-gita explains that God has two principal energies: the material energy and the spiritual energy. The soul is composed of spiritual energy, and the body and all the material elements are composed of material energy. Solids, liquids, and gases are made of material energy. The material energy is dead, inert matter, whereas the soul, the spiritual energy, is alive and conscious.

In our case there is a distinction between the physical body and the spiritual soul that animates it. But in the case of Krishna, or God, His body is completely spiritual. In God there is no duality; He is completely spiritual, and thus His form is spiritual—and unlimited. As spirit souls, we are tiny fragments of God, of the Supreme Soul. In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna says, mamaivamso jiva-loke jiva-bhutah sanatanah: “The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal fragmental parts.” (Bg 15.7) So we, as individual souls, are parts and parcels of the Supreme Soul, Krishna, and we are fragmental parts eternally.

There is a school of thought that is sort of material but sort of spiritual too, that says that in the conditioned state we are individual but that when we are liberated we lose our individual identity and become one with God. Our teacher, Srila Prabhupada, calls this merging “spiritual suicide.” The psychology of the impersonalists, who want to merge and become one with God or with God’s light, is based on the same type of relative, dualistic thinking that we just discussed. Their logic is “I am an individual and I am suffering in the material world, so if I want to become free from suffering, I have to give up my individuality.” But we conditioned souls in the material world are in a diseased condition, forgetful of God, and because we are diseased we suffer. When we are cured of our disease, we will no longer suffer—we will enjoy.

If we take an ordinary person suffering from some disease and say, “You are suffering, and I have a solution for your suffering: I will kill you,” he or she will say, “That is not a solution. The solution is to cure me, not to kill me.” Spiritually, the impersonalists, or Mayavadis, are saying, “You are suffering, and we have the solution: Commit spiritual suicide. Just merge and become one with God, and then you won’t exist as an individual anymore, and so you won’t feel any more pain.” But that is not a true solution. The real solution is to be cured of the disease, and when you are healthy you can enjoy life. We agree that when you are diseased all of your activities are painful; but we go further and say that when you are cured the same activities that were painful when you were diseased, forgetful of God, can be pleasurable—in Krishna consciousness.

Forgetfulness of God results in a diseased state called “illusion,” or maya. The cure for this disease is a procedure by which we can remember God, by which we can become God conscious, or Krishna conscious—a process called yoga. The Sanskrit term yoga literally means to link or to connect. The English word yoke, as “to yoke two oxen,” is derived from this root. So, the process of yoga actually means to reconnect with God.

In the Pantanjali system there are eight stages of practice, called astanga-yoga, beginning with yama and niyama. Yama and niyama mean rules and regulations. No one can practice yoga—or make spiritual advancement—unless he or she follows some discipline. And the disciplines that we follow in bhakti-yoga are common to all practices of yoga. After yama and niyama, the prohibitions and positive injunctions, comes asana, which has been popularized in the West—yoga-asanas, yogic postures. Then comes pranayama, breathing exercises.

Good health is not an end in itself in yoga. All these physical practices are actually meant to enable the yogi to meditate on God for long periods without being disturbed or distracted. A proficient yogi can meditate for hours, even days, without being disturbed by bodily ailments or even the natural demands of eating or sleeping. And the real goal is to go further, to progress to pratyahara, withdrawing the senses; to dharana, concentrating on God for some time; to dhyana, deep, extended meditation on God; and ultimately to samadhi, complete, continuous absorption in God—actual realization of God. In samadhi, although the yogi is in the body, he does not identify with it. He is fully absorbed in his internal relationship with God and completely detached from matter. That is the goal of yoga, and that is the purpose for which we have taken birth as human beings—to realize God and become detached from matter, liberated from the repetition of birth and death, samsara.

The stage of samadhi is described in the Bhagavad-gita (6.2023):

yatroparamate cittam niruddham yoga-sevaya
yatra caivatmanatmanam pasyann atmani tusyati

sukham atyantikam yat tad buddhi-grahyam atindriyam
vetti yatra na caivayam sthitas calati tattvatah

yam labdhva caparam labham manyate nadhikam tatah
yasmin sthito na duhkhena gurunapi vicalyate

tam vidyad duhkha-samyoga-viyogam yoga-samjnitam

“In the stage of perfection called trance, or samadhi, one’s mind is completely restrained from material mental activities by practice of yoga. This perfection is characterized by one’s ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self. In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness, realized through transcendental senses. Established thus, one never departs from the truth, and upon gaining this he thinks there is no greater gain. Being situated in such a position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact.”

Such yoga must be performed in a solitary, sanctified place, as prescribed in the Bhagavad-gita (6.1112):

sucau dese pratisthapya sthiram asanam atmanah
naty-ucchritam nati-nicam cailajina-kusottaram

tatraikagram manah krtva yata-cittendriya-kriyah
upavisyasane yunjyad yogam atma-visuddhaye

“To practice yoga, one should go to a secluded place and should lay kusa grass on the ground and then cover it with a deerskin and a soft cloth. The seat should be neither too high nor too low and should be situated in a sacred place. The yogi should then sit on it very firmly and practice yoga to purify the heart by controlling his mind, senses, and activities and fixing the mind on one point.”

Sucau dese indicates that one must find a sanctified place, preferably near a sacred body of water. The yoga-sutras say that the place should be far from where two roads meet. In other words, it should be a secluded, sacred place.

But can ordinary people really fulfill the conditions for the proper execution of the astanga-yoga system? What hope is there for us?

Well, there is hope.

Later, the Bhagavad-gita says, satatam kirtayanto mam: we should always engage in kirtana, or glorification, of Krishna. Satatam means “always,” kirtana means “chanting,” and mam means “about Me”—about Krishna, who is speaking. We may chant the name of Krishna, as in the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, or we may glorify the form of Krishna, the qualities of Krishna, or the pastimes of Krishna. That is kirtana.

Generally, the goal of a yogi’s meditation is the form of Visnu within the heart—one of Krishna’s unlimited forms and prominent expansions. Dhyanavasthita-tad gatena manasa pasyanti yam yoginah: It is He whom the yogis see when they fix their minds in meditative trance (SB 12.13.1). He is the goal of yoga, and that same goal can be achieved by chanting.

Chanting is especially recommended for the present age. The Vedic system recommends different processes for self-realization to be performed in different ages and in different circumstances. In the present age the recommended process is the chanting of the holy names:

harer nama harer nama
  harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva
  nasty eva gatir anyatha

“One should chant the holy names, chant the holy names, chant the holy names of Lord Hari [Krishna]. There is no other way, no other way, no other way for success in the present age.” (Brhan-naradiya Purana 38.126)

Now, this phrase, “no other way,” can conjure up associations with phrases such as “Jesus is the only way.” But in this context, “Krishna” is only one of God’s names, and Krishna consciousness is not sectarian. God is unlimited, and He has unlimited names in different languages and cultures.

In practically every major religious tradition we find that practitioners chant God’s name. And historically, the practice has been quite prominent, especially in the mystical schools of different religious traditions. We find it in Christianity, in Islam, in Buddhism, and in other traditions. We are not sectarian—we don’t say, “You should chant only ‘Krishna’; don’t chant ‘Jesus,’ don’t chant ‘Allah.’ ” God is absolute, and on the absolute platform any name that describes God is as good as any other.

In one sense, God has no name, because He is transcendental. But because He has forms and qualities and pastimes and associates, He can be referred to by His attributes and relationships. When I was in Pakistan I came across a book about the ninety-nine names of Allah that reminded me of the Sanskrit text Visnu-sahasranama, “A Thousand Names of Visnu”; they were very similar. One of the names of Allah, for example, is Habib. Habib means “friend,” and in Sanskrit we have bandhu, friend—dina-bandhu, loka-bandhu—because God is the friend of the distressed and of every living being. So words that describe God’s forms, qualities, activities, and relationships with His devotees can be accepted as names of God. And again, because God is absolute, His names, His forms, His qualities, and His pastimes are all the same on the absolute platform.

In the material, or relative, world, if we are hungry and chant, “Mango, mango, mango!” just chanting “mango, mango” will not satisfy our hunger, because the word “mango” and the object mango are different. But in the spiritual, or absolute, realm, the name of a thing and the thing itself are the same. So when we chant, “Krishna Krishna, Hare Krishna,” Krishna is personally present, dancing on our tongues. Therefore devotees feel bliss when they chant Hare Krishna, because they are associating with Krishna.

nama cintamanih krsnas
purnah suddho nitya-mukto
  ’bhinnatvan nama-naminoh

“The holy name of Krishna is transcendentally blissful. It bestows all spiritual benedictions, for it is Krishna Himself, the reservoir of all pleasure. Krishna’s name is complete, and it is the form of all transcendental mellows. It is not a material name under any condition, and it is no less powerful than Krishna Himself. Since Krishna’s name is not contaminated by the material qualities, there is no question of its being involved with maya. Krishna’s name is always liberated and spiritual; it is never conditioned by the laws of material nature. This is because the name of Krishna and Krishna Himself are identical.” (Padma Purana, Cc Madhya 17.133)

Krishna is all-blissful, and when we associate with Him we also feel blissful. So, that is the recommended process for the present age: to continuously chant (kirtaniyah sada harih). Thus devotees chant whenever possible.

Great devotees and scholars have actually described how different stages in the practice of chanting correspond to the different stages in astanga-yoga. The physical process of chanting is easy. Anyone with a tongue can articulate the transcendental sounds of the holy names: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. But there is also a question of quality. Someone can chant, and his mind may be in Hollywood, or out on the waves. We may be chanting with our mouths—with our lips and with our tongues—but our minds may be anywhere. Still, the chanting is effective. The mantra is so powerful that even if we are unable to chant with concentration, the transcendental sound vibration will purify our mind, and as our mind becomes purified, it will be easier for us to chant with attention.

But to chant with attention is a serious practice. The Bhagavad-gita advises that whenever and wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering nature, we should bring it back to the self. In the beginning when we chant, our minds are bound to wander. In any process of meditation, until one is very advanced one’s mind will wander. And when it wanders, one must bring it back. But again, the beauty of chanting is that even if your mind wanders, the chanting itself purifies your consciousness—whereas in silent meditation if your mind wanders there is no meditation; it is gone. But with chanting, even if your mind strays—of course, this is not an excuse to allow our minds to wander—but even if your mind strays, there is benefit, because you are vibrating the mantra and the transcendental sound is entering your heart and purifying it. So there is great spiritual benefit to the chanting, and it can be a great pleasure.

At least for now, we are not able to chant twenty-four hours a day—although that is the goal. We are not like yogis who can sit in meditation for eight or ten or twenty or thirty hours. We need other engagements, and all the engagements of the bhakti-yogi, of the devotee in Krishna consciousness, are related to God. We hear about God, we talk about God, and we think about God. We worship God and pray to God; we even cook for God—we prepare vegetarian food and offer it to God in a transcendental process. And we tell others about God. Thus the same activities that are the cause of bondage for ordinary persons become the cause of liberation for devotees in Krishna consciousness. Even activities required just to keep the body and soul together—earning, spending, bathing, dressing—become part of the same transcendental process when our lives are dedicated to Krishna consciousness. So the difference between being spiritually diseased and being spiritually healthy, between spiritual and material activities, is very subtle. The activities may be the same, only the consciousness is different. In material consciousness we act for our own sense gratification, limited or extended, without reference to God. And in spiritual consciousness we engage in the same activities, but for the pleasure of God, in the service of God.

Our spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, gave the example of a person seated on an airplane. While reading or talking to the next passenger, he might feel like nothing is happening. But as soon as he looks out the window, he will see, “Oh, we’ve gone a long way. We used to be way down there, and now we are above the clouds. We are flying.” So it’s subtle. We are sitting here and talking, and later we will be eating, and it may appear that we are doing the same things we always do: get together, talk, maybe sing songs, maybe dance, and then eat. But because we are doing them all in relation to God, as part of the process of bhakti-yoga, the same activities that cause bondage and misery in ordinary life become the cause of liberation and eternal pleasure.

This is the great science of the Bhagavad-gita—the science of yoga. And in the course of His instructions in the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna concludes:

yoginam api sarvesam
sraddhavan bhajate yo mam
  sa me yuktatamo matah

“And of all yogis, the one with great faith who always abides in Me, thinks of Me within himself, and renders transcendental loving service to Me—he is the most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all. That is My opinion.” (Bg 6.47)

After describing various types of yogakarma-yoga, jnana-yoga, dhyana-yoga, and astanga-yoga—Lord Krishna declares, “Of all yogis, the one who worships Me with love is the highest of all.” Such love for Krishna can be awakened by the practices of bhakti-yoga—especially by chanting, kirtana.

So we thank you for coming and joining us, for adding to our pleasure in chanting and hearing.

Now I shall ask my godsister Kausalya dasi to speak. She and I served together in India for many years. Last night I met with her and her husband, and we discussed so many subjects—sociology, politics, psychology, art—everything—and for practically every topic that we discussed, either she or her husband came up with a quotation from the Bhagavad-gita. So I thought, “These people have deep realizations about the Bhagavad-gita; we should hear from them.”

Kausalya dasi: The Bhagavad-gita informs my life, our lives, every day. It teaches us so many simple, wonderful ways to always remember Krishna. Krishna says, “I am the taste of water.” So we were sitting there last night, drinking water, and somehow that came up, that just in drinking water you can remember Krishna. Krishna says, “I am the light of the sun and the moon.” So just looking at the sun and the moon you can remember Krishna. And He says, “Among beasts I am the lion.” We have three stray cats that have moved in with us. So every time I look at my little kitties I think of Krishna. It is interesting that in just everyday life the Bhagavad-gita can constantly make you remember God in simple and profound ways.

One other thing we were talking about was how sometimes as human beings we get caught up in form and function. Religious rituals become so important to us. But then I remembered Krishna’s instruction in the Bhagavad-gita, where ultimately He says, “Give up all varieties of religiosity and just surrender unto Me.” So it is always about ultimately surrendering to Krishna no matter what you do, no matter what you say—everything, every action, every activity, has to be surrendered.

One of the other things we were talking about is how Krishna reminds us, “You have the right and the duty to act, but you do not have the right to the fruits of your action.” So often, in business or in life, we get attached to a certain outcome. In life, we want it to go our way, we want very specific things to happen, and we become very focused and attached, but ultimately it is not up to us. We are not the doers; we are not the ones who will make that result take place. Surrendering everything you do on a daily basis to God and the ability to just let it unfold as God wants it to unfold is one of the lessons I learned from the Bhagavad-gita, because more than anything else Krishna says, “Remain unattached; remain detached.” It is a very simple lesson, but it is a very hard lesson to learn. As human beings, we become very attached to everything. We become attached to all of the fruits of our activities. We become attached to a happy outcome, or whatever it is. Detachment, to me, is an important lesson of the Gita.

Giriraj Swami: When did you first come in touch with the Gita?

Kausalya dasi: I actually started reading the Bhagavad-gita before I met Srila Prabhupada. I was about fourteen years old, and the first thing I read was a small book from the Ramakrishna Mission called Thus Spake Sri Krishna. It had little quotes from the Bhagavad-gita. So, I was totally absorbed in this book, and I would meditate on these words all the time. I was a hippie, and so I was experimenting with lots of psychedelic drugs. When I was about sixteen, I decided to move to Hawaii so I could become totally absorbed in yoga, transcendental meditation—not TM per se, because I never took initiation in that way, but meditation in my own way. I also had come in contact with the Hare Krishna record album that Prabhupada made, that first album he made, back in ’66. On it, he was chanting, and I used to listen to that Hare Krishna mantra all the time. So I went to Hawaii, because I felt that in Laguna Beach (where I had been living) there were too many people around. I needed to be alone, so I flew to Hawaii, and I put up a little lean-to on the beach, and I was meditating and chanting and praying and wishing I could find a guru, because I knew I needed direction.

So, I was sitting there on the beach, and a flier flew by and hit me on the leg, and it read, “A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Speaking at Sunset Point on the Bhagavad-gita.” Well, I had my little Bhagavad-gita with me. I can’t remember which press it came from. It was not Prabhupada’s. His had not come out yet—the one with the purple cover and the picture of Lord Visnu. Then I thought, “Oh my God, what day is it today?” because I didn’t know. So I walked to town and asked someone, and it was that day. So I put out my thumb and hitchhiked to Sunset Point, and there was Prabhupada sitting on a kind of little table with a madras cloth hung over it and a harmonium in front of him, under a palm tree. Kartikeya was fanning him, and Govinda dasi and Gaurasundara were there. And that was it—three devotees and a smattering of hippies. So, I sat there and listened as he chanted, and I learned a lot from him.

Afterwards I asked him some questions from the Bhagavad-gita. I opened my book and said, “In my Bhagavad-gita it says . . .”—blah blah blah. I cannot even remember what I was asking him. Anyway, he said, “I would like to talk to you. Come back to my house.” So I hopped in the back of the pickup truck, and the whole time I was watching his head. Gaurasundara and Prabhupada were in the front cab, and I rode in the back with Kartikeya and Govinda dasi. Prabhupada was on the end of the seat, and his head just had a golden glow. And I thought, “This man—I can learn so much from him.”

So, I went in the house, and Govinda dasi said, “Sit down, and as soon as he is free you can talk to him.” I watched him walk down the hallway and into his bedroom. I sat there, and after a couple of minutes I got impatient and said to myself, “He invited me. Why is she telling me that I have to wait?” So I was getting . . . I thought, “I am just going to go in and talk to him. He said that he wanted to talk to me.”

So I walked down the hallway and knocked on his door, and the door swung open, because it had not been closed. He said, “Come in. Come in.” So I sat down, and we started talking about the Bhagavad-gita. Then Govinda dasi brought in a tray of sugarcane, and she said to me, “What are you doing here!” She had made him a little snack, and she was going to let him have his prasada and then let me come in and see him. But Prabhupada said, “No, no; she can stay.” So she closed the door, and we sat there, and Prabhupada showed me how to eat sugarcane. I was a hippie in those days, and I said, “I don’t eat sugar.” He said, “Oh, but this is natural. It grows by the side of the road.” “Okay, then. That’s fine.” Then he said, “And besides, you don’t eat the whole thing.” Then he showed me how to chew it and suck the juice out. So we were sitting there, chewing the sugarcane and putting the pulp on the plate and talking about the Bhagavad-gita. Then he pulled his book—the purple one—off the shelf and said, “I have just gotten this published.” He showed it to me, and then he said, “Now, what does your Bhagavad-gita say?” And I said . . . I don’t even remember—I feel a little ashamed that I don’t even remember the passage that we discussed—but I told him what it said, and then he read me his, and then he said, “Mine is much better.”

So, that began my relationship with Srila Prabhupada. I had been absorbing the Bhagavad-gita since I was fourteen, and I met Prabhupada when I was sixteen. And although I was attracted to the Gita from the beginning, and although I have read many editions over the years, I can honestly say that Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is surpasses them all.

Hare Krishna.

Devotee: Did you ask Srila Prabhupada if you could see Krishna?

Kausalya: Yes. I am embarrassed. I had been meditating and taking LSD. (Children, don’t get any ideas!) Anyway, I said to Prabhupada, “When I take LSD, I see Krishna.” And he said, “You see Krishna because Krishna loves you and wants to show favor to you—not because of LSD.” Then he said, “Promise me that you won’t take it anymore.” And I said,” I cannot do that right now; it is my sacrament.” I am sure that for some of the older people here this is going to ring familiar. Anyway, I said, “I cannot do that right now.” Then he said, “Well, will you come and stay here? I would like you to stay here, but . . . there are only two bedrooms, and one is mine, and Kartikeya is sleeping in the living room, and Govinda dasi and Gaurasundara have theirs. But please come back.”

So, we had a wonderful exchange, and then I went on my merry way. I hitchhiked back to my little place on the beach, and I had continual experiences and realizations. One of them was about acintya-bhedabheda-tattva, although at the time I did not know those words. It was about God being simultaneously one and different.

A month passed, but I could not get Prabhupada out of my mind. It was as if all of a sudden everything was meaningless. He was there in my heart; he had won my heart. I called my friends back in Laguna and said, “I met this swami, and he was just amazing, but I have no idea how to find him. I was in the back of this pickup truck, and I don’t even know where I went.” I was spaced out, I must say. They asked, “What is his name?” I answered, “Bhaktivedanta Swami.” And they said, “You’re kidding! They just started a temple up in Los Angeles, and we found it, and we go there on Sundays, when they have a feast.” So I got on a plane and flew back, and that was it.

One last note. Prabhupada was not there when I got to Los Angeles. He was coming in about two weeks. So, Dayananda picked me up from the airport, and they put me in a sari. At the temple when Prabhupada came we used to kneel along this pathway, and he would pat us all on the head, all along the walkway. So I was kneeling on the walkway, and I had my head down waiting for my pat, but I couldn’t resist. I looked up, and he looked at me and said, “I met you in Hawaii. Come back to my apartment, and we will talk.” And so we did.

I would like to tell one story, because it includes one of the sweetest exchanges. We had so many wonderful exchanges. In India, the group was very intimate; there were very few of us—only five women and fewer than fifteen men.

And we traveled a lot. Prabhupada was very protective and nurturing, and he tried to teach us everything—how to behave. So, one time I put together a pandal program in Jaipur. I arranged for Prabhupada to live on the grounds of Govindaji temple, and one day I went to his room and said, “Prabhupada, you have to come outside. The sky is filled with kites. It is beautiful.” He said, “Oh, it is kite-flying season.” Little did I know that there was a kite-flying season, but in India apparently there is. He said, “Are you going to fly kites today?” No, I said, I was not. “You can,” he said. “When I was young I used to fly kites with my sister, only her kite would always fly higher than mine. So one day I cheated. I got up on the roof of our house, and my kite flew higher than hers. Then she started calling, ‘Govinda! Govinda! Govinda!’ and her kite flew higher than mine. Even in our childhood we were always remembering Krishna.”

That constant remembrance of Krishna, as advised in the Bhagavad-gita, is the perfection of yoga.

Hare Krishna!


Celebrations of Manifestations


One of the unique aspects of the Vedic literatures is the description of how incarnations of the Supreme Being appear in this mortal world.  And yes there are more than just a few.

This week millions of people around the globe will be celebrating the appearance day of Lord Krishna who manifested His earthly pastimes around 5000 years ago.  To the skeptical Western mind the idea of Almighty God being present in this world is pretty hard to accept but this should be looked at with reason and logic.  If the Supreme Being is indeed supreme then there can be no restrictions on how, when or in what way that Supreme Being can act.  Our mental ideas as to what God can or cannot do have no validity whatsoever in the reasoning.

Sound like we could be setting ourselves up to be conned by some charlatan?  It is for this reason that knowledgeable gurus have stressed that all incarnations have to be described in the authorized Vedic literatures.

The specific feature of Lord Krishna is that He is the fountainhead of all incarnations and is best described as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.  The ancient scriptures have numerous and wonderful descriptions of the form and pastimes of Krishna and His paramount supremacy is emphasized throughout the various texts.  He comes to this world to enact His sportive leisure activities to primarily attract us to the eternal spiritual world and at the same time to re-establish the balance of power between good and evil in this world.  The most authoritative yoga text Bhagavad-Gita is comprised of Lord Krishna’s directive to human society on how to achieve the ultimate aim of life – liberation from this miserable world through love, service and voluntary surrender to Himself.

Modern Man a Polished Animal.



The ancient Vedas have an aphorism – come out of the darkness into the light.  This is advice to all humans who have the unique ability to enquire into their eternal identity, their relationship with the manifest world around them and ultimately their relationship with the source of themselves and everything else.

Really what is the alternative?  If we think that our civilization is unsurpassed in all its technological advancement let’s break it down objectively and analyze the essence of all our achievements.

Animals have four basic activities; eating, sleeping, mating and defending.  As long as humans are only enamored by these basic needs then they are no better than their animal neighbors.  The human may make some elaborate plan for his eating arrangements and boast of the fine restaurant and gourmet food but the bottom line is filling the “eating” need.  In regard to our sleeping we think that because we are doing it in a fancy five bedroomed mansion that it is advancement – but actually what is the difference, when we are asleep we are unconscious of our external surroundings.  Similarly mating and defense mechanisms may be very elaborate and complex but no matter the level of sophistication it is still the same basic activity.  Human civilization has become a society of polished animals.

So the vedas invite us, actually implore us, to elevate our consciousness and begin to enquire into our spirituality.  We further need to take up some regular practice based on a spiritual path.  If we don’t then really we are no better than the ignorant animals.

A Culture of Wisdom – or the Brain Dead!

Srila-Prabhupada1In today’s world we seldom see spiritual practitioners who inspire by their qualities.  It’s all well and good to cough out some ideas and to tell every one else how they are going in the wrong direction, but that old adage “actions speak louder than words” comes to mind.  This trend may well be the single most defining principle responsible for modern day culture’s aversion to accepting spiritual authorities.

The ancients encouraged a “Wisdom Culture” based on sound knowledge of the difference between spirit and matter.  In fact the ancient texts say that without proper knowledge, one cannot have spiritual realization. More than that though, the symptoms of one who has such spiritual realization are variously described.

For one thing ­- the material energy no longer acts so strongly on him and thus the allurement of wealth, power and other trappings cannot deviate him from the path of truth.  One in this consciousness is the benefactor of all living entities and thus acts for the welfare of all others.  Out of mercy and not satisfied with his own liberation he wishes to enlighten everyone and further sees no one as his enemy.  Other qualities displayed are tolerance, peacefulness, self-control, purity, honesty and renunciation.  The self realized person is able to control the senses and not be overcome by anger, lust or greed.  A sadhu means one who actually follows the principles of the authoritative literatures of spiritual wisdom and at the same time lives a life of devotion.

These descriptions are certainly a far cry from what we observe in present day leaders. Not surprising though in a society that is comprised mainly of people walking around in a mass consensual trance.

The Law of Karma



So how many times has somebody said to you “that’s bad karma”?

The use of the word has sneaked its way into our language but how many of us know the actual meaning, or the consequences we all face due to karma?  Some say they don’t believe in karma, but that is like saying “hey I don’t believe in gravity.”  Well good luck to someone who thinks that because of their not believing in something it’s influence will not act on them.

Karma is a fundamental law of nature, which basically determines the amount of happiness and distress we get in this world.  It is something like the checks and balances of the universe.  Even if someone thinks they can get away with doing something unjust as long as they aren’t caught doing it, Karma has news for you!

Every action we perform has a resultant reaction and they can be divided into two main categories; actions that result in enjoyment and actions that result in suffering.  It seems logical that if I cause misery to someone that in the future I will also have to experience the same sort of suffering.

As spiritual beings under the laws of nature we are caught up in this quagmire of actions and reactions.  On one hand being forced to act in a certain way due to being conditioned by the material energy, and on the other being forced to undergo the results of our actions.  Everyone carries a stock of karmic reactions like a sort of bank balance and at the same time adds to that stock by performing further actions.

The Gita gives the loophole ;  “One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus leaf is untouched by water.”

Good Times and Ecstasy

Our common purpose in life is the quest for happiness; good times, pleasure, ecstasy, bliss!

Yes we want it all, who doesn’t?

Before we go running at it with full speed it is worth hearing some advice from the ancients that tell us that there are a couple of prerequisites.  First a dependable, anchored mind.  Second, inner peace and satisfaction.  When these conditions are met, and only then, can we start thinking of acquiring happiness.

“One who is not connected with the Supreme can have neither transcendental intelligence nor a steady mind, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace? (Bg. 2.66)

Our modern social system is one where we are constantly bombarded with messages that there are so many things we “need” that will make us happy.  We chase from one aspiration to the next and find the goal posts are always moving.  The promise of fulfillment and satisfaction remains an illusory concept that keeps us ever frustrated and, not surprisingly, wanting more.  Like one famous millionaire of the 80’s when asked to sum up his philosophy on life replied – more.

Bhagavad Gita advises us that instead of looking for satisfaction in the external objects of sensual pleasure our cherished goal of happiness is to be found when we are not dictated to by those desires.  Further when material desires are not met they actually generate anger and frustration.  “Before giving up this present body, if one is able to tolerate the urges of the material senses and check the force of desire and anger, he is well situated and is happy in this world.” (BG 5.23)

Three Modes of Material Nature



One of the most fascinating conversations I had was with a holy man who was pure and well versed in the ancient texts of India, known as the Vedas.  He told me how the Vedas describe this material energy of physical and mental variety as having three dominant modes; goodness, passion and ignorance.  Just as there are three primary colours that when mixed in different combinations form the whole colour spectrum, so these three modes of nature are combined in a myriad of combinations and result in the varieties of consciousness of the living beings.  The pure spiritual beings are conditioned by the material energy under these three modes.  Just as white light changes colour when passing through a piece of coloured glass so the pure soul is induced to act by the material modes.

The mode of goodness is pure, sinless and illuminated with knowledge. The affect it has is to condition the soul with a false sense of happiness in this world.  Characterised by unlimited desires and longings the mode of passion conditions the soul to endeavor feverishly for material accomplishments and sensual enjoyment.  The mode of ignorance binds the soul through sleep, laziness and madness. It is just the opposite of goodness and those in this condition are reluctant to try for any spiritual understanding.

To cultivate our innate pure consciousness is the essence of yoga, by which one gradually rises above the two lower modes and eventually transcends even the mode of goodness.  Yoga means connection so when the individual soul is united with its source, the Supreme Soul, it rids itself of the influence of the three modes of material nature.  As the Vedas state “when the mind is freed from the fuel of the modes of nature, the fire of material existence is extinguished.”

Spirit Not Matter

Most genuine spiritual paths teach that ultimately we are transcendent beings.  This implies that we are different from the material body.  Even our language indicates this by the fact that we state we are the possessor of the body; we say, “my body” not “I body”.  The “I” then is the possessor of the body or the spirit or essence of our being.

The ancient yoga text Bhagavad Gita begins by stressing that our real identity is as infinitesimal spiritual beings, eternally existing and separate from the body.  The predicament we face in our current experience is that we are in essence also pleasure-seeking entities and this desire to enjoy is played out through the medium of the material body.  Unfortunately we do not find actual fulfillment in this plane.  An example is given of an animal in the desert that runs after a mirage thinking it will find the water necessary to quench its thirst but ultimately ends up dying.  In a similar way no matter how hard we try to find satisfaction through the medium of the material energy most of us still find that there is a nagging inner sense of discontentment.  The reason for this can be explained by another simple analogy; if we take a fish out of water it will never be satisfied until back in it’s natural environment, no matter what else we try to give it!

Therefore genuine spiritual practices are meant to create an atmosphere that nurtures our inner longing for spiritual fulfillment, or in other words awakens us to our inherent state of consciousness.

Spiritual beings having a material experience.

This pretty much sums up my take on life.  I know that I’m going out on a limb and an opinion such as this makes me susceptible to public ridicule.   But that’s one thing I stopped worrying about many years ago.

At the tender age of eighteen I whole-heartedly took up the practices of Bhakti Yoga with enthusiasm and youthful exuberance.  Not having a Ferrari to sell I left behind my 500cc “Thumper” and moved into an ashram or commune to become a full time practitioner.  Shaving my head and donning robes I probably gave my parents nightmares and certainly a few too many sleepless nights!  Public opinion be damned I had found what I was looking for.

Later as a novice monk I travelled to Allahabad, India to attend Maha Kumbha Mela, probably one of the largest spiritually motivated gatherings of its time.  At this vast tented city along the Ganges, amongst approximately 29 Million visitors were all variety of sadhus, ascetics, yogis, holy men and the occasional self proclaimed “God” or incarnation.  I saw first hand the deep faith and spiritual commitment inherent in the psyche of the peoples of India.  Needless to say I was impressed, though also a little surprised at what appeared to be naivete and unquestionable devotion.

My resolve was strengthened to strife for a thorough understanding of the ancient Vedic traditions of India.

Over the coming months I hope to share with you some of this rich tapestry of spiritual tradition and wisdom, it’s concepts, beliefs and how they can be relevant to us all.